DS Show Review & Gallery: SPELLS, Celebration Summer, and Heavy Seas – Chicago (05.28.2023)

SPELLS traded in the Mile High City for the Windy City on May 28, 2023. The Colorado self-described “vacation” band was joined by Celebration Summer, and Heavy Seas at Reggie’s Music Joint. It was a low-key, but high-energy evening of compelling music and equally compelling performances.

On this weekend Punk Rock Bowling lured many punk rock fans away from the Windy City, leading to a smaller crowd in attendance. Many bands would be disheartened by the situation. But not the trio of bands on the bill this night. In fact, in many ways, this situation enhanced the experience. Having become friends with several of the musicians who performed, as well as some showing support, it felt, to me, more of a personal house party. Intimate, yet super fun. You know how there are always a few friends who decide to break out into song during parties? It just happened to be that these friends are all excellent musicians. No drunken, cringy renditions of “Don’t Stop Believing” sung along to a Karaoke machine.

Instead, we got the hyper-goofy fun of SPELLS. The band, consisting of “Little Stevie Shithead” (aka Ben Roy), Charlie “Continental” Stimsell, Don Bersell (aka Duke “Box” Standard), Robert Drew Burleson (aka Peter “P.” Bohner) and Dawn “Dusk Monarch” King were clad in matching golf shirts, and at least partial tracksuits, as is their modus operandi, though they do maintain a rotation of different patterns.

Roy and King shared vocals and played off of each other in a dynamic way unmatched since Sandy and Danny hit the Rydell High Senior Fair. Ok, maybe that’s just a tad hyperbolic. Still, there is a crackling dynamic when they abandon the stage to mingle amongst the crowd, even more so when they draft fans to be a part of the show.

I spoke to Coffey, Burleson, and King several days after the show to get to their reflections on the evening. King told me:

“I think the show was amazing! Even though it was a small crowd, it’s the energy we feed off of. The people who were there were friends or friends of people who weren’t able to make it. Some of them were brand new to the SPELLS experience! I feel like over the years SPELLS have cultivated friendships all over the US and overseas. It’s hard not to fall in love with this band.

Chicago is an amazing city and we’re lucky to have a bunch of buds there.

King ended with:

What’s up next? World Domination.”

Burleson also spoke to the sometimes smaller crowds which every band experiences at some point:

“We are never really concerned about who attends shows. Staying in is the new going out so we get it. But for those who venture out to the dance party, we want to give them a complete 80% effort.”

Burleson shared some amusing memories from lesser-attended shows:

One time we played in Quebec and the promoter got mad cause we were stuck in traffic and showed up a little late. He proceeded to take the opening band and all of the people who were there and went to another (bigger) show. We ended up playing to a room full of maybe 6 friends of friends, the bartender, the door person, and the sound person. IT WAS AMAZING!

And he had some invaluable advice to other musicians:

We made everyone get on stage and had a dance party. Maybe one of my favorite shows. Play to the people who are there and not the ones who aren’t. I’ve played to a room full of stuffed animals, GI Joes, and Kathy Ireland posters, and having a chance to play live in a club in a city we love (Chicago) to people we love is THE BEST.”

Oh, and Burleson also answered a query I’ve had for a while. That is, how they came up with the band name:

SPELLS is an acronym for Stupid People Elevating Lonely Losers Socially. We came up with it after attending a youth leadership conference.”

Coffey echoes the sentiments of the King and Burleson:

Like my bandmates said, we play our asses off for anyone that’s there and don’t sweat if it’s 10 people or 200.  We do what we do because we love it.

He added:

It’s always great to see friends at shows. We do have an affinity for Chicago. It’s the city we’ve played the most outside of Colorado. We’re fortunate to have some great friends in town that have gotten us on some good shows and introduced us to a lot of rad people, such as yourself.

Coffey is credited as the producer of the latest SPELLS release but he describes the process as this:

I pretty much get producer credit cuz I’m there during the entire recording process, but it’s a full band effort.

When not touring with SPELLS, Coffey, remains immersed in music as a producer and owner of his own record label.

Yep, I started Snappy Little Numbers in 2011. I run it out of my basement. Rob helps out with art for SLN quite a bit too. Reminder… it’s not Fingers!!  Even though there are fingers in the logo. I don’t always think things through, haha. [Coffey immediately followed up that he made the joke about “Fingers” “lovingly” sans disrespect to Stiff Little Fingers. He added that it’s quite common for people to make this mistake.]”

And because Burleson revealed the origin of the band name, Coffey thankfully offered how he came up with the name of his label:

I came up with Snappy Little Numbers cuz it’s old-timey slang for a catchy song. Like, “hey that tune is a snappy little number”. Then I added an S to pluralize how many freakin’ hits we were gonna curate!

With all this talk about sparsely attended shows, it should be noted that SPELLS shows are way more often playing to jam-packed crowds. No doubt the shows will continue to get ever bigger. With a set list like the band cruised through on this Sunday night, including “What The Hell is Caution,” “Some Would Say,” “She Wants to Die Before Me,” “Deceiver,” and closing with, of course, my favorite, the above referenced “80% Is Good Enough.”

SPELLS latest record, “Loose Change, Vol. 2,” is planned for release on June 29, 2023. If you want the vinyl version, you have a choice between “Dolphin Blue,” or “Drakula Red.” It’s available for pre-order now.

Celebration Summer, a wonderfully upbeat band moniker, sounds like the name of a music fest. However, per the band’s online press kit:

Celebration Summer is a mash-up of sorts, pays homage to the iconic Hüsker Dü song “Celebrated Summer” and Washington DC hardcore’s significant social and activist “Revolution Summer” of 1985.

The band’s songs are politically driven and have the mission of racial and social justice. With its powerful set, including “Disconnected,” “Silly Me,” “My Devotion,” “Patience in Presence,” “Bitter End,” and “Fraud,” Celebration Summer neither pulls its punches nor suffers fools. For those who lean MAGA, this is might not the music for them, as the band describes itself this way:

“Celebration Summer hit the ground running with anthemic, progressive songs capturing the struggles of
modern life in Trump/post-Trump-era America.”

Actually, perhaps MAGAs should be listening to Celebration Summer. Perhaps they’ll have a change of heart. In any case, with compelling lyrics set to strident, in the very best way, music, this band should be celebrated this summer and in every season.

Celebration Summer will be festing in Gainesville, FL. You can check them out at Fest 21 in late October.

Heavy Seas co-founder/guitarist Jeff Dean has been a very busy man of late. Amongst other projects produced and engineered The Bollweevils latest release Essential. In the audience at this show was Daryl “The Punk Rock Doc” Wilson, to show his gratitude to and support of Dean, and other friends on the bill.

Dean told me:

Recording [and] producing Bollweevils was rad…

Heavy Seas founders Dean and Ronnie DiCola recruited former All Eyes West bandmate Justin Miller to fill in on bass after that position came up available. This Chicago trio kicked off its set with its own originals, “Waves and Dreams,” “Sunn,” “Idle in Life,” and “Oscillation.” Heavy Seas also included as surprise for long-time fans of the three musicians/ Per Dean:

We also ended the set with 4 All Eyes West songs since Justin was filling in on bass.”

Dean continued:

“Ronnie, Justin and I were All Eyes West then Ronnie and I started Heavy Seas. So having Justin fill in basically made it All Eyes West.

Dean is currently in Baltimore, MD recording the third Heavy Seas album. He provided me with some information about this:

Heavy Seas has a new album called Distortion Days coming out at the end of summer on Rad Girlfriend records for the US and little rocket records for EU UK.”

Looking forward to the new album and also Dean’s perspective on his role in making Essential. He pledged to tell us at Dying Scene more about it later. We can’t wait!

Please check out more photos from the show. Thanks & cheers!

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